We’ve sat down with Michele Mikesell from DECORAZONgallery, the talented artist behind the stunning 'Arizona Tumbleweed' selected for the Battersea Autumn Collection campaign. Read on to find out what inspires her to put paint to canvas.
How would you describe a typical day in your studio?
I don’t know that there is a typical day. Like most jobs, every day has it’s own challenges and rewards. Maybe the most consistent thing for me is a heavy nesting session is required, not too much different than a dog getting comfortable in the woods. You check the corners for critters, get all your sticks and leaves situated just right.. turn around three times. When I leave the studio the night before, I try to leave a simple task to come back to, something mindless like scraping the pallet, or putting away some paint, just something that will cue me that it’s time to work, that I’m back in the woods.
What drew you to explore the surreal in your art?
The idea of individual identity as it relates to the whole is what originally drew me to figurative work. I began using cave art symbols as a subject for abstract work and I began seeing anthropomorphic figures and animals within the placement of the symbols. I allowed myself to go with that evolution. These visual subjects using myth, parable, and symbolism are what originally took me from abstract work into the surreal abstract narrative. I have always been a bit of a schizophrenic painter however - I find the material nature of paint as much of a subject as any figure or portrait, and I have recently been feeling a return to non-objective work.
What was the inspiration behind ‘Arizona Tumbleweed’?
Arizona Tumbleweed is part of a series that was based on a historical marker I stumbled across outside of El Paso, Tx. It was a location where they fired explosives into the sky in order to make rain. The alchemical process of destruction to bring forth life or treasure is so fantastical to me like a classic fairy tale or myth. When I got home I looked for more information about it, and came across a work of poetry title Rainmakers-1891 by Logen Cure. Her words perfectly captured the irony, desperation, and the sublime of this part of history. The imagery she presented in her work just blew me away. As I read more of her work I found she actually lived in the region and I was able to meet with her. I ended up doing this series based on her piece. Arizona Tumbleweed is a painting from that series. I once actually rescued a tumbleweed at a gas station in Arizona and brought it back to my studio. It always felt like it was a little out of place in the city, vulnerable - incendiary. I think that’s what inspired Arizona Tumbleweed.
What has been the most memorable moment of your career so far?
Wow. This is such a good question. I did a show based on the small town of Hugo Oklahoma. Because it is located right in the center of the USA, temperate and flat - it is where the traveling circuses would come to winter since the late 19th century. A cemetery there holds the remains of many legendary circus acts. I began interviewing a gentleman named Dudley who had traveled with the circus for many years but was too old to keep up with them at that point, so he kept the grounds in shape while the circus traveled. Spending time with this man, hearing him recite these stories was every bit as romantically cinematic as you would imagine. He told me about Kelley’s island in Lake Erie where they still bring the circus over on ferry boats. He said everyone on the island comes down and cheers and honks their horns just like they did back in the old days. His eyes filled with tears thinking about it, and I told him, “Dudley, when I finish this show I’ll take you back to that island and we’ll watch the circus come in together.” And I did, and it was exactly as he said. That was really special.
What would you say are the most challenging and the most rewarding aspects of being an artist today?
I can’t speak for all artists, but I can say for me the accessibility the internet and technology offers. Historically, one of the most challenging things about being an artist was finding the time to paint while taking care of your everyday responsibilities; keeping up with your paperwork, your galleries, documenting your work etc. Now keeping up a website and promoting yourself through social media is a full time job. However, it’s a two sided coin - artists used to have to take and keep organized slides. I wouldn’t go back to those days. Another facet of accessibility is the amount of work that is available to view. To see the talent, the skill and the genius of what other artists are doing out there can be a double edged sword. It can be overwhelming and paralyzing, but it is such a bastion for learning. Artists sharing their process, techniques, writings and ideas, it’s really amazing to have that insight. The challenge is to use those forces for good.
Technology and accessibility is what I also attribute to offering the most rewarding aspects of being an artist today. I enjoy making the object of a painting. From building the canvas to hanging a finished painting on the wall. It’s been done for hundreds of years and it hasn’t changed much. In my opinion - it’s one of the few things that you just can’t improve upon. Creating something that only you can create, your personal experiences and ideas manifesting themselves into an image or an object that can only occur one time through one individual is particularly rewarding at this point in history. Alongside this is the technology that is now available to artists who want to break new ground. There is as much new ground to break and as many new ways to send your message as you can dream up. What a time to be an artist.
What advice would you give aspiring artists?
Be honest with yourself and who you are. Don’t make dishonest art. When you are ready to move on - move on. If you’re not ready to move on, don’t. Don’t cater to what you think people want or expect from you or you will run out of fuel very quickly. Just make art. Make interesting pictures. Make what interests you. Be courageous. The world needs you right now.
Take a look at how Michele's painting 'Arizona Tumbleweed' inspired the Battersea Autumn Campaign, photographed by John Wright, below.
See more of Michele's work and get your hands on your very own by grabbing your tickets to the Battersea Autumn Collection now »
Header and body images: Photography by Barry G Snidow.
Artwork image: Michele Mikesell, Arizona Tumbleweed, Oil on canvas, 76 x 76cm, £4000.00, DECORAZONgallery.
Autumn campaign photography: John Wright.